Judge rejects residents' Casement Park stadium planning approval legal challenge

Compressed for web
CGI image of the planned new stadium.

A legal challenge against a decision to grant planning approval for the redevelopment of the GAA's Casement Park in Belfast has been dismissed.

The Mooreland and Owenvarragh Residents Association (Mora) had challenged the decision by former Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon to grant approval for the 34,000-plus capacity stadium in the west of the city.

Mora had argued that the decision was unlawful on both planning grounds and on constitutional grounds, in the latter instance arguing that Ms Mallon should have sought the approval of other executive ministers under the terms of Stormont's ministerial code.

Casement Park in Belfast currently lies derelict Credit: PA

Delivering judgment in the judicial review case on Tuesday, Mr Justice Humphreys said all arguments advanced by Mora on planning grounds were "without merit".

He said Ms Mallon's failure to secure wider Executive approval represented a "technical breach" of legislation, but he used the court's discretion to uphold her decision regardless, noting that no executive ministers were opposed to the redevelopment of the stadium.

The constitutional aspect of the challenge centred on legislation passed in 2020 to give ministers more authority to make decisions without recourse to other executive ministers.

The Executive Committee (Functions) Act clarified the circumstances within which ministers could make decisions without needing the approval of the wider administration and enabled the Infrastructure minister to make significant planning decisions without recourse to other ministers.

However, crucially, after the Act was passed, the corresponding Ministerial Code governing the conduct of Stormont ministers was not updated to reflect the legislative changes.

So, under the terms of the code when Nichola Mallon made the Casement decision, she was still required to seek executive approval for significant or controversial planning decisions.

Justice Humphreys acknowledged this was a technical breach of the legislation but he said the planning decision should still be upheld.

In making the discretionary judgment, Justice Humphreys cited several factors.

The judge said there was "no evidence that any minister disagreed with the decision to grant planning permission for Casement Park" and said Nichola Mallon had provided papers to her ministerial colleagues informing them of her intention to grant approval.

He said the commitment to redevelop the stadium was also outlined in the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored powersharing in 2020.

The judge also noted that the Department of Communities, which is the majority funder of the project, "expressly supported" the planning decision.

The judge said the fact the planning grounds for appeal had been rejected was also a factor.

Finally, he highlighted there had "already been significant delay and there is considerable public interest in this project".

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